A little more about One Sentence Story submissions

It’s been a few days since submissions for the One Sentence Story mini-anthology opened, and so far I’ve received about 50 stories. That’s incredible! I want to thank everybody who has submitted something. I’m having a great time reading these stories.

Submissions are open until December 24, 2012, so there’s still plenty of time to write a story if you haven’t already.

I’ve replied to just over 30 of the submissions already — either to say “This isn’t exactly what I’m looking for” or “I’d like to hold this for further consideration”. So far, the replies have been almost evenly split between those two categories. I figured this would be a good time to mention some of the patterns I’ve been seeing, and what I’d like to see more of.

What Happens Next?
By its very nature, a story told in a single sentence is going to be short. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be about something momentous! One pattern I’ve been seeing is “slice of life” type stories — stories where the conflict amounts to a moment of embarrassment, a moment of regret, a moment of anything.

The most common type I’m seeing are “missed connections” — a boy and a girl share a spark in some public space, but neither does anything about it, and later they wonder what might have been… This kind of thing happens every day. Usually, what might have been is “nothing”. Unless there’s some special reason to believe that this missed connection was going to be the one that changed the characters’ lives, it’s just not enough to hang a whole story from.

That’s why I ask myself “What happens next?” after I’m done reading each story. If the answer is “Life goes on just as it did before”, then the story probably isn’t momentous enough.

Tones I’m Looking For, and Tones That I’m Not
I’ve received some submissions that are perfectly fine from a storytelling point of view, but which I can tell just won’t fit with the tone of the anthology. In hindsight, this is something that I should have addressed in the call for submissions.

Here are some tones that I like:
Exciting, funny, spooky, mysterious, wistful, melancholy, sweet, charming, beautiful, hardboiled, suspenseful, creepy, witty, catty, absurd, atmospheric, cerebral, mind-bending, optimistic

Here are some tones that I don’t like as much for this project:
Gory, disturbing, shocking, disgusting, mean, vindictive, violent, twisted, miserable, hopeless

In another anthology, with more words and more stories, a shocking or violent one-sentence story might be a good addition. But with only 15 stories and probably fewer than 3,000 words in the whole book, the effect is more jarring. (Especially since the cover is not likely to tip people off that the stories may be shocking or violent.)

Dark is okay. Sad is okay. Angry is okay. But I like characters who don’t give up and who have some measure of control over what’s happening to them. They don’t have to win, but they do have to have a choice. The story should be about what they decide to do — not what happens to them.

Don’t Send Me Stories That Are More Than One Sentence Long!
I don’t really think that anybody bothering to read this blog post would make this mistake, so I’m just including this one to make the rest of you feel better. If you’ve sent me a story that is only one sentence long, then you’re already ahead of the folks who apparently didn’t read the guidelines at all. So congratulations!

A Final Word About Length
I’ve seen great stories so far at all different lengths. However, I’ve seen relatively few stories in the 50 – 200 word range, which is a pretty good length for the stories that I hope to publish. (Especially considering there needs to be room on the pages for illustrations… This is a graphic design project as much as a writing project!)

There have been a couple excellent stories under 50 words, but by and large the very short ones have a tough time competing with longer stories that contain more characterization, more physical details, more sense of setting and place. For some stories, sparse minimalism adds to the effect. But for the rest, take advantage of the chance to really tell your story!

I’ve also been getting an awful lot of stories that are between 300 and 350 words. Many of these are very good and contain many interesting details. But many of them are also too long and contain too many words that don’t add much to the story.

This isn’t necessarily the kiss of death — if I love a story that I think is 50 words too long, I’ll just ask for it to be edited down. But if you really want to wow me, then make sure that every single word adds to the effect you’re trying to achieve. Revise, revise, revise — and get rid of the words that aren’t needed!

And now: Good luck and all the best! I hope to be reading your stories soon!


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